J. Venkatesan, Hindu, March 12, 2006
"Witnesses turning hostile is nothing new"
New Delhi: Chief Justice of India Y.K. Sabharwal on Saturday expressed concern over the slow pace of the criminal justice delivery system and said, "the system appears to be on the verge of collapse due to diverse reasons."
In his keynote address at the Chief Ministers and Chief Justices conference, he said "some of the responsibility will have to be shared by the executive branch of the state. Not much has been done for improvement of the investigative and prosecution machinery. Significant suggestions for separation of investigative wing from law and order duties and changes in rules of evidence still lie unattended."
High profile cases
In an apparent reference to the Jessica Lal case, the CJI said "the public outrage over the failure of the criminal justice system in some recent high profile cases must shake us all up into the realisation that something needs to be urgently done to revamp the whole process, though steering clear of knee-jerk reactions, remembering that law is a serious business." He said "no economy can succeed if the justice delivery system is not speedy and efficient."
Later addressing a press conference, the CJI said witnesses turning hostile was nothing new. This problem could be overcome only by completing the trial within a specific period. He said "it is the investigation that is to be made stronger as courts can decide only on the basis of evidence on record."
Referring to the Government’s move to bring in a bill on judicial accountability, the Chief Justice said, "Legislation is the domain of Parliament." Asked whether he had given his comments on the proposed Bill suggested by the Law Commission, he said, "I am yet to receive the report. As and when I receive it I will respond. If they (government) don’t want my response, it is up to them not to send it to me for my comments."
Asked whether he accepted such legislation, the CJI said, "some other countries have provided for such a mechanism. It may be better to provide some such mechanism to give confidence to the people on the judiciary."
He did not agree with the Prime Minister’s perception that PILs had become a tool in the hands of the judiciary for harassment. While agreeing that PILs should not become publicity interest litigations, the CJI said "PILs have done a great service in protection of human rights, protection of environment, forest wealth, illegal mining, etc." He said PILs should be handled with great care and caution keeping in view the parameters laid down by the Supreme Court in various cases.
On the two-day conference of Chief Justices held on Thursday and Friday, he said, "we discussed wide-ranging issues in relation to legal and judicial reforms."
He said the main area of concern was the disposal of arrears. It had been resolved to set up special benches in each High Court for disposal of old cases, particularly criminal cases. It had been suggested that there must be a time limit of say six months for staying a criminal trial and a mechanism for vacating the stay and the trial expedited.